26 March 2013
Great concepts never date. In 1890, Cottage by the Sea was established by two ladies who wanted to provide ailing or impoverished children with a seaside holiday. Over 120 years later, this standalone charity continues to provide children in need with a respite from their daily trials.
Over the years the need hasn't waned. "However, while we originally catered for impoverished kids from nuclear families, we now see a whole spectrum of issues with poverty being only one factor," said Tony Featherston, General Manager of Queenscliff's Cottage by the Sea. Breakdown of family units, parents on drugs, school yard bullying, the list goes on and on.
The children are predominantly of primary school age and are referred to the charity by school and social welfare workers. They come from all over Victoria, and extend to parts of Australia when funding permits. "If we receive donations from Sydney, for example, we ensure we put that money towards assisting children from that region," said Tony.
The charity is run by a voluntary management committee, a team of full-time staff, and a small army of volunteers. "Over the course of the year, Cottage by the Sea has around 160 volunteers working to keep our doors open - from cleaning and maintenance, to cooking and fund raising," said Tony.
"Our greatest challenge is sustainability. We receive no funding from the government and rely solely on donations, trusts or foundations, and our relentless fund raising efforts. In the past, when funds ran out, the Cottage would simply shut its doors, sometimes for months at a time. The last instance we almost closed was 1997 - since then, we've managed to remain consistently open throughout the year." With the exception of Christmas and Easter, Cottage by the Sea runs its week-long camp programmes year-round.
Next door to the camp facility is a holiday house where they can, on occasion, also house family members. "We recently accommodated a young girl's grandmother and her friends in the house next door which gave the granddaughter in her care the confidence to attend the camp," said Tony. Each night the grandmother would come and tuck the child in, providing her with the security to stay and enjoy the programme.
1. Take a Break programme
Take a Break is the charity's main offer, providing a week-long camp for the kids. The programme emphasises co-operation and respect and encourages children to be healthy, active, happy and secure. The camps are also offered to children from areas affected by disasters such as bushfires and floods, as well as refugee families.
The Take a Break programme ensures the children experience a wide range of recreational options - from challenging activities such as surfing, those that harbor team building like the ‘Spider's Web', to those that are simply all about fun. The children are supported to fit into a homely and nurturing environment that ensures they feel both safe and appreciated.
2. REEF programme
Established in 2008, the Recreation Education Environment and Friendship (REEF) programme targets children transitioning from primary to secondary school who are disengaged at school - and therefore at risk of spiraling into a myriad of future problems. They may be targets of bullies, or have troubled home environments. "Our aim is to build up their confidence and develop skill sets. The programme runs three times a year over a three year period, fostering leadership and team-building skills, as well as teaching basic living skills such as cooking. It also provides the opportunity for the children to establish a friendship group outside their day-to-day environment. We aim to unearth unknown skills or interests within each child, skills that could be harnessed to re-energise them, take back to their community or perhaps even identify a potential career path." A recent participant was found to have a passion for fishing. "We decked him up with fishing gear and put him in contact with the local anglers club and a mentor," said Tony.
When the kids graduate from the programme at around 14 - 15 years of age, they are invited to return during the school holidays to help mentor younger campers, an arrangement that benefits both the mentors and campers alike.
The programme's next step will be to offer trainee positions in recreation and hospitality, working within Cottage by the Sea.
3. Cottage Ambassadors
Cottage by the Sea has a number of high profile Ambassadors who attend a variety of activities with the children. "A positive role model can have an enormous impact on the kids," said Tony. Through spending time and sharing their own personal stories, people such as chef Curtis Stone, footballer Jimmy Bartel and sprinter Cathy Freeman have made lasting and inspiring impressions on many of the campers.
Due to the age and heritage status of the facilities, it is not particularly disability-friendly, which is something they are keen to rectify in the future. "We would also like to extend the programme more broadly to children outside of Victoria. To the best of my knowledge, there's no other comparable charities which provide the extensive programmes we offer," said Tony.
If you would like to make a donation to one of Australia's oldest children's charity, helping to empower disadvantaged children by supporting them in developing their mind, body and wellbeing, please visit: cottagebythesea.com.au
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